Presidents of Ukraine and Poland unveil memorials at Lviv cemetery
by Zenon Zawada
Kyiv Press Bureau
LVIV - Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko and Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski officially unveiled two grand memorials at Lychakiv Cemetery honoring Polish and Ukrainian soldiers who died fighting each other in the first world war.
Both leaders declared the June 24 ceremony a historic moment for Polish-Ukrainian reconciliation, solidifying a new relationship that began during the Orange Revolution in which citizens of both nations may begin to regard each other as allies rather than rivals.
"Without a free Ukraine, there is no free Poland," Mr. Yushchenko declared. "Without a free Poland, there is no free Ukraine."
More than 3,000 Poles crossed the border to witness the unveiling of the renovated Orliata (Eaglets) Memorial, which consists of a cemetery for 2,500 fallen Polish soldiers and is considerably larger compared to the separate, neighboring memorial for the Ukrainian Galician Army (Ukrainska Halytska Armia, or UHA).
Though two ceremonies were held, the day's events clearly focused on honoring Polish soldiers and appeasing Polish historical concerns as Mr. Yushchenko explicitly sought to demonstrate that Ukraine is a progressive society able to integrate into a European Union that has largely set aside rivalries.
"The reconciliation of Ukraine and Poland is the last brick in the building of peace and harmony in Europe," Mr. Yushchenko said.
The UHA ceremony lasted about 45 minutes, consisting of an ecumenical service, brief speeches by political and religious leaders, including Cardinal Lubomyr Husar, a firearms salute, singing of the national anthem and laying of wreaths.
The subsequent Orliata ceremony lasted more than three hours and consisted of a complete Roman Catholic mass, patriotic songs, political speeches, military poems, the laying of wreaths and also a firearms salute.
While Poles beamed with pride for their memorial, Lviv residents were not as enthusiastic, with no more than 1,000 spectators showing up for the UHA ceremony. Only a few hundred Ukrainians stuck around for the Polish ceremony.
Two men held a large banner that said in Ukrainian, "Let live Ukrainian-Polish Friendship."
Conflicts over the historical representation of the monuments delayed the unveiling of the memorials for at least three years. Last week's ceremonies were attributed by Mr. Kwasniewski to the nations' new solidarity born of the Orange Revolution.
Still, conflict persisted until the very last minute as Verkhovna Rada deputies attempted to block the ceremony the day before, insisting that officials change any Polish inscriptions to Ukrainian.
Mr. Yushchenko was intent on not letting anything derail the ceremony, which he had previously deemed as "a matter of honor," and efforts in the Rada quickly failed after his office applied pressure and criticism.
Many Ukrainians, including Soviet-era dissidents and political prisoners, criticized Mr. Yushchenko for what they viewed as caving in to the Poles and betraying what the UHA soldiers fought for.
Despite certain compromises Ukrainian lawmakers secured with the Poles, nationalists are still disturbed by a large plaque in the Orliata cemetery's center bearing the "mech scherbets," a sword that many Ukrainians view as a symbol of Polish military might over Ukraine.
Poles, on the other hand, claim that it is merely a symbol of their military.
Underneath the sword is an inscription in Polish, "Here lie Polish soldiers, who died for the homeland."
While Lviv lawmakers succeeded in removing the adverb "heroically" from that phrase, they are still dissatisfied with the phrase "for the homeland" because they say it implies that Lviv was Polish land for which the Polish Orliata fought.
Polish soldiers were occupiers of Lviv during World War I, and it's therefore inappropriate to state they fought for their land, commented Yaroslava Tataryn, 50, a Lviv resident.
"A lot of people did not show up for this ceremony because of that phrase," she said. "We don't go to Kholmschyna, Peremyshl or Yaroslavschyna and claim that those places are our homeland."
Nationalists on either side of the debate view Lviv as a city that exclusively belongs to their people. Ukrainian nationalists believe Lviv has been Ukrainian ever since Prince Danylo of Halych founded the city in 1256 and named it after his son Lev.
Polish nationalists point out that for centuries up until the second world war Poles were the majority of Lviv's population while Ukrainians mostly populated the smaller cities and towns surrounding it.
In his speech at the UHA memorial, Mr. Yushchenko adopted a less polarizing view of history.
"Former classmates, neighbors and relatives lie next to each other in this cemetery, some fighting under the Ukrainian tryzub, others under the Polish eagle," Mr. Yushchenko said.
"In the past, fate not once led the two nations to duel. Defeat of one never became the defeat of another. The mutual arrival at Lychakiv of both presidents in my view demonstrates that Ukraine and Poland have the courage to look the past in its eyes. We have sufficient dignity not to rewrite the tragic pages of history, and sufficient wisdom to draw the proper conclusions from our history."
A memorial for the Polish Orliata has stood at the Lychakiv Cemetery ever since World War I, however, it began to deteriorate after World War II.
Both memorials reveal the stark contrast in Polish and Ukrainian history and culture.
Architects renovated the Orliata memorial along strict, Western classical style, erecting enormous white limestone arches in the cemetery's rear and a massive, two-tiered pantheon-like structure forming a massive altar.
In the first tier, in a chamber created by a long row of arches, designers engraved in the limestone the names of Polish soldiers who died in November 1918.
On either side of the first tier are monuments devoted to American and French soldiers who died in the battles.
U.S. Ambassador to Poland Victor Ashe paid tribute to these American soldiers by laying a wreath.
A chapel sits on the second tier.
The UHA memorial's center is a dark gray granite tower that props up a muscular, defiant St. Michael the Archangel overlooking the city below while clenching a sword in his right hand and a laurel wreath in his left.
At its base is the inscription, "To the warriors of the Ukrainian Galician Army who died defending Lviv in 1918-1919."
One wall wrapping around a part of the column features busts of Plast founder Dr. Oleksander Tysovskyi, Sich Riflemen Commander Mykhailo Haluschanskyi and UHA Col. Dmytro Vitovskyi.
Further down this wall, architects created an exclusive section for a Plast monument, consisting of a large stone cross bearing the Plast emblem at its center, under which an inscription in Ukrainian reads "For those Plastuny who didn't violate their oaths."
Opposite is another wall upon which the names of fallen UHA officers and soldiers are engraved, along with the names of UHA and Sich Riflemen divisions.
Several hundred members of Plast Ukrainian Scouting Organization were present, lining the path and forming an honor guard at the Ukrainian memorials, including the Plast monument. Polish scouts also turned out by the hundreds.
In his speech at the UHA memorial, Mr. Yushchenko referred to the Sich Riflemen as Ukraine's successors to the Kozaks who defended Ukraine's honor and who became a part of Ukraine's identity.
According to the Encyclopedia of Ukraine, the Ukrainian Sich Riflemen, the only Ukrainian unit in the Austrian army, was organized on the initiative of the Supreme Ukrainian Council in August 1914. Its first volunteers were members of Sich, Sokil and Plast. The UHA was established in November 1918 as the army of the Western Ukrainian National Republic (which later united with the Ukrainian National Republic). It was formed around a nucleus consisting of the Legion of the Ukrainian Sich Riflemen and other detachments of the Austro-Hungarian army.
Despite its roots in Halychyna, Mr. Yushchenko referred to the UHA as an army for all of Ukraine that drew the most educated and talented of volunteers.
Ukrainians, Poles, Germans and Jews all fought in the UHA, Mr. Yushchenko said.
"Honor and glory to the city of Lviv and all Lviviany [Lviv residents] who supported this memorial," Mr. Yushchenko said. "It begins the nation's long road of returning past glory to its saints and renewing it."
Besides the Kozaks and World War I soldiers, Mr. Yushchenko said the heroes of World War II also deserve eternal memory.
Mr. Yushchenko personally thanked Mr. Kwasniewski for all the Polish president did for Ukrainian-Polish understanding. "Your visit, Mr. President, to the UHA memorial is a courageous deed that could only be undertaken by a true patriot and a true European," Mr. Yushchenko said.
Following those words, Mr. Kwasniewski said both the Polish and Ukrainian people obtained their freedom at high prices but it's now their mutual obligation to pass that hard-fought freedom on to future generations. "We will build the spirit of peace, dialogue, unity and partnership," Mr. Kwasniewski said.
Cardinal Husar, primate of the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church, led an ecumenical service.
"Look around and you will see many young faces," he said. "We ask that you, as representatives and leaders of our nations, tell our youth that every person should have an ideal in their life. Every person should fight for this ideal, and if necessary, give their life." Besides Cardinal Husar, other religious leaders present included Poland's Bishop of Soldiers Tadeusz Plotski; Bishop Marian Jaworski, leader of Ukraine's Roman Catholics; Chief Rabbi of Poland Michael Shudrich; and Father Borys Gudziak, rector of the Ukrainian Catholic University.
Ukrainian patriots who attended the UHA ceremony also wanted to bring attention to the small cemetery for Veterans of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (Ukrainska Povstanska Armia, or UPA) located down the hill and overshadowed by the towering UHA memorial.
While the UPA veterans' cemetery has its own small memorial, it needs better gravestones and maintenance, said Khrystyna Liubinetzka, 56. During the autumn and winter months, the cemetery is constantly muddy, she said.
While many Lviv residents had reservations about the Orliata memorial, others expressed support for it.
"It is a symbol of friendship between our nations," said Sophia Zhyrii, 72.
Sisters Oksana Zhuk, 45, and Olena Mazepa, 40, visited the Lychakiv Cemetery in order to observe the ceremonies and then visit the graves of their parents, Ivan and Natalia Zhuk, both UPA veterans buried in the cemetery below the UHA memorial.
The Soviet Communists captured their parents and sent them to Siberia for 10 years, Ms. Zhuk said.
She believes her parents would have supported Mr. Yushchenko and Mr. Kwasniewski's tribute, despite all the suffering they endured from Ukraine's enemies.
"My parents would've been happy to see this happen," Ms. Zhuk commented. "My father was very politically aware, and understood everything. But he felt that we had to forgive and move forward."
Copyright © The Ukrainian Weekly, July 3, 2005, No. 27, Vol. LXXIII
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